This was my first attempt at making Pun Choy (or poon choi), translated literally as ‘basin vegetables’, and now it might become a family tradition.
Poon Choy was something on my cooking bucket list that I was leaving for when I had the luxury of more time, maybe even weeks, to plan, research recipes and shop. Instead, this was thrown together a la reality tv show challenge style.
Premise: you got limited ingredients and only 3 hours to plan and put together a celebration dinner. What will you present before the hard to impress judges aka picky toddlers? Cue dramatic music.
Sure, sure, the key layers were purchased ready-to-eat, but this Pun Choy turned out surprisingly easy to make and tasty for an unplanned last-minute feast!
1. Garlicky Romain Lettuce Stir Fry
2. Fried Gluten Balls (that’s right, you read it correctly, GLUTEN, not gluten-free balls!)
3. Oyster Sauce Shiitake Mushroom
4. Pork meatballs
5. Fuzhou style fish balls
6. Soy sauce chicken*
7. BBQ pork (char-siu)*
8. Roast duck*
10. Ketchup Shrimp
* purchased from a Chinese BBQ restaurant
There are probably as many ways to make one as there are families, with simple easy to make and inexpensive layers like mine, to exotic and complicated layers I incorrectly thought it would require.
The potential ease to make, combined with the large variety of foods to accommodate many, makes this a wonderful potluck dish.
Holiday celebrations in this household are usually ad hoc affairs because of the Mister’s stance on non-commitment with going to my in-laws. It is just like pulling love me daisy leaves, except it’s ‘we might be going / we aren’t going’ instead. This year we landed on we’re going, but at 4 PM, the Mister texted from work that we aren’t leaving anymore until the following day. I texted my sister the news and she asked us to join them for dinner at 8 PM. What could I bring?
At 5 PM, my daughter woke from her nap so we went to the kitchen and I took stock of the nearly empty fridge; except for eggs and a bag of Romaine lettuce heads, I had successfully cleared it out in preparation of being out-of-town for 4 days.
I peeked in the freezer- frozen waffles, broccoli, fish sticks, fish and meat balls and eggplant parmesan. The pantry held dried beans, dehydrated Shiitake mushrooms, fried gluten balls and chicken stock. I can scrap together a quick dinner but what is Lunar New Year if dinner is not a feast?
I started ruminating on the feasts my mom would put together for us each year. It was disappointing that I wasn’t doing the same for my daughter so I thought I should at least attempt just one of the more festive dishes. Just one dish, just one dish, just one dish…
And poof, just like that, the one dish train of thought lead to an ambitious attempt at making Pun Choy for dinner in 3 hours.
I started on the shiitake mushrooms first because of the amount of time required to get them really soft the way I like them. Normally I soak them for hours or even over night so with just hours until dinner, I washed them and soaked for just an hour and stuck them in the pressure cooker for another hour with some water and cane sugar. Then I drained and cooked them with some garlic and savory Oyster Sauce.
While the mushrooms were in the pressure cooker I made a pot of soup to cook the meat and fish balls. Then I used the same soup to cook the gluten balls next. Finally, I used the same soup to steam and season the frozen broccoli.
While the meatballs were cooking, I stir fried the Romaine lettuce with some garlic.
The time was now 7 PM and I was pretty much done but I was disappointed- the dish was hardly festive. If only I had some seafood or meats to give the dish more substance. Just then the Mister texted to say he was on his way home. So I asked him to pick up some BBQ pork (“Char-siu”), soy sauce chicken and roast duck and a pound of shrimp.
I gave my daughter a bath and got ready for dinner while I waited for the key ingredients. The Mister arrived at 7:30 PM, we should be leaving for my sisters but I still have to cook the shrimp so the next half hour was a whirlwind. This is where some people start cracking on reality shows, and the cameras pan frequently on the clock.
We made it to my sister’s on time and had a wonderful night after all.
Happy Lunar New Year everyone!!